First Lady Casey DeSantis speaks at a high school assembly about substance use and abuse. May 19, 2022. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel
At a high school in Central Florida Thursday, First Lady Casey DeSantis’ spoke at the first iteration of a set of school assemblies statewide aimed at encouraging kids not to use drugs and why, as a part of her ongoing anti-drug initiative.
Keep in mind that there have been other anti-drug campaigns in the past, notably, the “Just Say No” campaign — a 1980’s push by then-U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died in 2016. And the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to curtail drug use among school-aged kids.
But decades later, some teens and young adults still use, and sometimes they overdose on drugs. Will DeSantis’ efforts be any different?
In trying to distinguish her initiative from other campaigns, Casey DeSantis is branding her school assemblies as fact-driven, to help students avoid using drugs by arming kids with “the facts.”
“You may find yourself in a situation where somebody is using drugs, and there’s peer pressure,” DeSantis said at the Thursday assembly. “What we want to do here today is to empower you to say ‘no’ but do so by equipping you with the facts about what drugs do to your body, to your mind, to your family and to your friends.”
The assembly at a Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee, was the culmination of the First Lady’s multi-faceted efforts to inform school-aged students about the risks associated with drug and alcohol, in a campaign called “The Facts. Your Future.”
The Thursday school event involved facts about drug fatalities, panelists with first-hand experiences of struggling with drug and substance addiction, and a law enforcement officer discussing his frequent interaction with drug overdoses.
“By giving you the facts about drugs, you make the decision for your future. Because these drugs, that the officers are seeing on the streets, they’re really scary,” DeSantis said.
She started “The Facts. Your Future” campaign in 2019. Over the past few months, one of her projects included publishing ‘toolkits’ for schools to have their own assembly and running anti-drug ads on various social media platforms.
The event in Central Florida Thursday was the first of these school assemblies, DeSantis said, and she focused in part on the rising number of fentanyl overdoses in Florida.
“The drug fentanyl, which only has to be the size of a grain of sand to be deadly, is pouring into our country and winding up in all different types of drugs. You may think you’re taking one thing, but if it’s laced with fentanyl, it could instantaneously kill you on the spot,” DeSantis said.
“So what we do today, with you learning why to say ‘no,’ you are hopefully going to save your life tomorrow.”
Students at the assembly watched a video describing how certain drugs affect the body and footage from a law enforcement officer’s body camera of a person being revived from a potential drug overdose.
DeSantis was joined by several speakers, including Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, who told the students that law enforcement officers deal with overdoses frequently.
“The number one thing that young people can do right now is never start in the first place,” Lemma said. The students seemed receptive to the messaging, with a round of applause.
Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, with the Florida Department of Health, provided advice for finding help for those struggling with addiction, while also stressing to the kids: “Don’t try this stuff.”
“If you do need the help though, there are some ways to get help,” Scheppke said.
He noted that those who need help with addiction should look for a medical professional who is certified in addiction medicine, and that the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration website has a list of physicians with this certification by locality.
He added: “Now if you can’t wait, and you’re in crisis, in Florida we did develop the 2-1-1 emergency system. You dial 2-1-1 to get that help.”
Later Thursday, Casey DeSantis’ husband, Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed legislation to increase the penalties of selling and distributing opioids in Florida, which includes fentanyl.
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